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Locking up Paul Goldschmidt before free agency

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Arizona Diamondbacks Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Whether we like it or not, it appears that John Mozeliak and the Cardinals think that Paul Goldschmidt is a worthy alternative to Bryce Harper. Derrick Goold has indicated as such - that the Cardinals aren’t going after Harper because they already got Goldschmidt. Let’s ignore that that makes no sense, but that at least appears to be the excuse they’re going with for some reason.

Ignoring the fact that there is no reason Goldschmidt and Harper can’t both be gotten, it stands to reason that if you think Goldschmidt is a worthy alternative to Harper, they plan to have him for more than one year. Again, the rumor mill has supported that. The Cardinals seem very likely to sign Goldschmidt beyond 2019, and if they had their way, it would probably be done before the 2019-2020 free agency hits.

You may be wondering why I’m writing this post now. Besides the fact that the offseason is providing me with absolutely no writing content, I think there is a chance the Cardinals extend Goldschmidt before Opening Day even arrives. You see, the Cardinals are below last year’s payroll. That’s a bad look. The Cardinals know this. One easy way to raise the payroll without actually having to improve the team - cause why would you want to do that? - is to give Goldschmidt an extension, which would include a 2019 raise. They’re interested in resigning both anyway, might as well use a raise for 2019 to help lower the cost for the future.

What would that extension look like? I’m going to make two assumptions, one of which I hope is correct and the other which I hope is wrong. The first is that the contract will be five years. I hope that is wrong. I would rather it be shorter, but it’s hard to imagine a contract extension of a shorter length if you’re trying to get Goldschmidt to skip free agency. The second is that the deal will be under market value, or why in the world would you sign him a year early?

Let’s determine Goldschmidt’s market value. ZiPS has Goldschmidt as a 4.4 WAR player. Now, I won’t take that as fact - yet. I think there’s good reason to believe projection systems will underrate Goldschmidt’s offense. ZiPS has Goldschmidt with a .334 BABIP, Steamer with .333. Goldschmidt has a career .355 BABIP, has posted a .353 BABIP for the past three years combined and hasn’t had a BABIP any lower than .343 since his first 177 PAs in the big leagues in 2012. I’m not willing to use “He’s 31” as a valid excuse for the drop in BABIP.

At the same time, I can’t assume he’s going to post a .355 BABIP this year just because that’s his career BABIP. When you have a BABIP that high, you still expect a drop. His career low, outside of his rookie season, is .343 so I’ll go with that. This boosts Goldschmidt’s wRC+ for ZiPS from 130 to 133 and for Steamer from 137 to 139. Let’s split the difference and say 136 wRC+.

Steamer is close enough, so we’ll just use their projection. Somehow Steamer has Goldschmidt’s defense pretty much exactly correct. ZiPS, who was more optimistic on Goldschmidt’s defense, had him with 4.4 WAR. Steamer has him with 4.3 WAR. However! Steamer projects Goldy for +1.6 BSR, and Goldy has been at least a +2.5 for the past five seasons. So we’ll just use 4.4 WAR. In other words, I just went in a circle for the same exact WAR that ZiPS has projected.

That’s the baseline established for his WAR for the next five years. Declining Goldschmidt half a win every year, he ends up playing the last year of his contract as an average player. I would take that. At $9 million per win, that means Goldschmidt would be worth $131 million over 5 years.

I would most certainly not sign Goldschmidt to that before the season. The problem is that I’m setting a baseline we don’t have yet. What if Goldschmidt has a 3 WAR season in 2019. I assume the projections will see a slight uptick in Goldschmidt’s performance for 2020 - let’s say 3.3 WAR. But now you’re locked into a deal that’s already assumed to be a loss. His new outlook for the next five years would be worth a little over $100 million. His last year would be 1.3 WAR, which would not be great!

In any case, as I said above, I think it’s a reasonable assumption that they would not sign Goldschmidt to a market value deal if they signed him before free agency. Instead of wins above replacement, let’s make a deal for wins above 0.5. Goldschmidt is 12 wins above 0.5 over the course of the deal right now by projections, which would mean a 5 year, $108 million deal. We get a half a win discount every year, Goldschmidt gets the security of not needing to wait until February to sign somewhere.

BUT! I’m Mozeliak and I need to raise payroll so the fans stop yelling at me. So I bleed some of that deal into 2019. Goldschmidt is currently making $14.5 million. The proposed deal is $21.6 million per year. Goldschmidt is probably not signing a deal where he makes more money in 2019 than for the next five years - add on $15 million if he will - so that limits the raise to $6 million for this year. With the raise, Goldschmidt’s deal lowers to 5 years, $102 million, which is $20.4 million. Let’s give him another half million, so that he gets $20.5 million for the next six years. 5 years, $102.5 million or 6 years, $123 million if you prefer to look at it that way.

Now I would much rather use this money on Harper, but I think that would be a reasonable deal for both sides. Goldschmidt is a very good bet to be worth $20.5 million in 2019, so I don’t see a lot of risk for this year. Free agency might be broke so I’m not sure if $9 million per win is exactly correct, but if it is, Goldschmidt would only need to be worth an average of 2.3 WAR for the next five years to be worth the deal. Again, I think he’s a pretty decent bet to do that.

So, Goldschmidt for 6 years, $123 million including this year. Take it or leave it?